As I said a long time ago, when I actually saw the movie, of the group with whom I saw Phantom, the Movie
, half thought it was the worst movie they'd ever seen and half had seen Gigli
. Just a little background on our group: there were five of us, seated in increasing order of sobriety, with a guy who was both drunk and high on the end, next to two people who were just drunk, me who was sober but sick and hopped up on cough medicine and abuterol, and a guy who was completely sober. Between my coughing and his utter clear-mindedness, it is debatable which of us suffered most. Anyway, here's why I hated it:
First off, I was frequently confused, especially when they were in the future time. Who is he? Who is she? Why is there a monkey? Why are we in the future? Should I care about any of these people? Etc. And my confusion was certainly not limited to the flash-forwards. Was the Phantom supernatural or wasn't he? I don't care, and artful ambiguity is lovely, I'd at least like to feel like the writers know. Oh, he's a magician
! That illuminates things. Are we in a world that has real magic? Because there are no other indications of this. Especially with the flashback to the backstory of the Phantom, which establishes him as an abused, ugly boy, not supernatural. And whether or not he is affects my belief of the end, of the ridiculous cemetery scene, and a number of other things.
Like when the candles come out of the water lit. Now, I understand why that happens on stage -- because the alternative is for them to drop from the ceiling, slide out from the side, or be carried on by a guy named Vince. And they have to move on, because we're on stage, and we can't very well go to them. In the movie, however, you didn't HAVE to. They could have just been there. But no. They had to be all grand, pushing them out of the water lit. I'm sure they felt that was fancy and dramatic. It was also confusing and jarring.
And what was with the horse? You know, the horse the Phantom had for Christine to ride down about a dozen fairly shallow stairs? Why? I mean, sure, it's grand. But once again, WHY? There are 12 stairs and she's a dancer. It's not like she needs an escalator.
And how did Christine leave for the graveyard in one dress and arrive in another? And if you were out in the snow, would you have your cleavage out in full force? I kept waiting for a little snowdrift to collect right there, between her breasts. And speaking of snow, what season/month WAS it, at any given time, and were they going in order? Because I felt like we were jumping around. Maybe it was our repeated excursions to the future that threw me.
Oh, and with the Phantom: If he's been down there ever since he was about 12, attended only by the mean lady, how on earth does he have an organ (even a small one), magic candles, a boat, and a peacock bed? Does he get delivery down there? Were they there for the previous Phantom? How did HE get them? And now would be a good time to say -- I'm not opposed to the fantastic in musicals. I like the fantastic. Heavens, the last scene I wrote had Jesus popping up and singing a vaudeville/honky-tonk number to Carrie Nation. Absurdity is fine. But if you're going to do absurd and you in any way allow your audience to think logically, or try and piece together the back story, you're sunk. For example -- our 10 minute musical involved a peacock, a penguin, a kiwi, a flamingo, and emu, and a wolf. Out in a forest someplace. If we'd have put it in, say, the penguin's nest, or the emu's or something, or tried to explain how the others got there, people wouldn't have bought it, but since we simply presented it as the state of our world, not explaining itself in realworld terms, it worked. It's weird how that happens. Phantom invites us to be logical by trying to explain things and simultaneously leaving enough holes that we have to try to reason things out for ourselves, leading to trouble.
Enough with the confusion for a while. One of the biggest problems I had with the film was that it seemed like all of the departments had operated entirely independently to create the film. Especially lyrics. The lyrics seemed to be entirely at odds with the music, the action, the costumes, the sets, most of the time. Or, since the lyrics preceded most of those things, they seemed to be being actively thwarted by the rest of the movie. And this is not to say that the lyrics were excellent, because they frequently aren't, but we really all ought to be on the same page. Some examples:
Lyric thwarted by music -- any time someone sings "Christine" because it's set "CHRIS-tine, " which is not where the emphasis falls. As we like to say, the em-PHA-sis is on the wrong syl-LA-ble. Sloppy. Also, any time anyone's singing something dramatic or angry to the tunes of "Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," etc.
Lyric thwarted by action -- When Christine awakes from spending the night in the Peacock Bed, she gets up, stands in the middle of the cave, candles, mist, etc, and sings "I remember mist/a cave/candles/etc." No, dear. The verb you're looking for is "I see." You see
mist. If you had woken up in your bed upstairs, then you could remember mist. Not right now.
Lyric thwarted by costumes -- The Masquerade. The lyric is,
Every face a different shade ...
Look around -
mask behind you!
Flash of mauve ...
Splash of puce ...
Fool and king ...
Ghoul and goose ...
Green and black ...
Queen and priest ...
Trace of rouge ...
Face of beast ...
Eye of gold ...
Thigh of blue ...
spinning reds ...
Okay, now, what's wrong with this picture? And while we're asking, what the hell was up with the little Martha Graham mime dance there on the stairs? But more on the choreography in a minute. Look at the picture. Yeah. With the exception of Christine, who seems to be wearing something pinkish, they're all wearing BLACK and WHITE! No mauve, no puce, no green, no rouge, no gold, no blue, no grinning yellow, no spinning red (what is it, by the way, with Tim Rice and color list songs?)
Lyrics Thwarted by Sets -- I'm sure it happened. I think physics was at one point defied by the sets, what with the guy falling into water, and then the grate falling on him, but from a lower height, which would have necessitated him to fall through the grate to get into the water.
Oh, and what was with the Phantom having a huge dramatic moment, almost killing Raoul, something about Christine, emotional, emotional, emotional, tense, dramatic, not completely sure what was going on but it was intense, and so then, of course, the logical next step was to go play with his monkey. Of course it was. Whatever.
Okay, on to the choreography. In "The Point of No Return" I almost died laughing. What WAS that dance they were doing in the background. Its tempo and meter certainly didn't seem to correspond to the music. And it was goofy looking.
And speaking of goofy-looking things in that song, what was with the Phantom ripping his mask off and having his hair change color? We've seen the masks downstairs and they don't include hairpieces. So why does he have thick, lush, dark hair with the mask on and wispy, gray hair from a receding hairline with the mask off. And also, on makeup -- the Phantom wasn't grotesque. He was moderately ugly, but I know plenty of people who are at least that ugly, and they don't go around with masks and magic candles and murderous vendettas. If his whole motivation is that he's ugly, make him UGLY. Especially if you want us to buy that an entire opera house is going to flip out when they see him unmasked. From 20 yards, this Phantom wouldn't have been noticeably disfigured. Except for the change in hair color.
But you say, the music is pretty! Yes, yes it is. Puccini was very talented. But pretty is not an excuse to do anything. Pretty is fair if you're writing Muzak, writing Hallmark cards, or designing wallpaper. Pretty in musical theatre is only helpful if it in some way serves the story. Sometimes you write something and it's gorgeous and it just doesn't fit, or you have to make it less pretty to make it fit. Thus is the medium.
Also, on the musical front, frequently the music didn't fit the action, and also, it was boring. I like "Music of the Night." Once. Maybe twice. But at some point, the usage of music seems to be something to the effect of "We have 2 minutes we need to sing -- quick, borrow some of that song." Which is acceptable if your show opens tomorrow and you just have to get the damn thing done. But if you're Andrew Lloyd Webber and you've had the past 20 years to do rewrites on this thing, you'd think he could have come up with a rational use of music. As it is, about 45 minute towards the end of the middle sounds like someone put just the soundtrack on shuffle.
Also, the middle was boring. There was definitely a stretch of about an hour in the middle when I was literally wishing our theater had a chandelier that could fall on me. And every time they finished a song, I'd pray, "Please, God, not another ballad. No! Please! I thought you LOVED me!" and then they'd go right into another ballad. I don't forgive boring easily. I have enough things to do without having my time wasted by boring musical theatre.
A few words on the acting. Christine looked like she'd either been shot up with horse tranquilizers or trained in the "Stare Blankly" school of acting. Ditto for the rest of the cast. Except for Minnie Driver, who seemed to be the only one who thought this was stupid and was actually having fun. I had fun when she was on screen.
And finally -- If you like Phantom
, good. I don't, but I'm glad you do. That, to me, means you have the general disposition to like musical theatre. And that's good. We like that. If you like Phantom
, there are plenty of other things out there that you haven't even heard of yet that you're gonna LOVE, things that everything Phantom
is, and so much more. Trust me.